Each spring a layer of small particles forms between 20 and 30 km in the polar regions. Results are presented from a 2D microphysical model of sulfate aerosol, which provide the first self-consistent explanation of the observed "CN layer." Photochemical conversion of sulfuric acid to SO2 in the upper stratosphere and mesosphere is necessary for this layer to form. Recent laboratory measurements of H2SO4 and SO3 photolysis rates are consistent with such conversion, though an additional source of SO2 may be required. Nucleation throughout the polar winter extends the top of the aerosol layer to higher altitudes, despite strong downward transport of ambient air. This finding may be important to heterogeneous chemistry at the top of the aerosol layer in polar winter and spring.